On eve of 9/11, what story is the media telling?
Media imagery can play a profound role in shaping the cultural memory of an event like 9/11, and some media experts worry that coverage could veer too far toward mythmaking.
In the hours following the attacks on the World Trade Center, CNN reporters in New York stood on a balcony of their bureau that afforded live shots of the twin towers in the background. They were images that would become a part of the iconography of the day: the stricken buildings smoldering and then falling in to ash.
But for Karen Curry, the network's New York bureau chief at the time, a different and far subtler image is what she remembers from that day. “I can’t forget the photo of a parking lot at a train station filled with cars from commuters who were killed in the trade tower collapse,” she says.
Today, as the 10th anniversary of 9/11 nears, some media analysts are asking the same question that Ms. Curry is asking: What story is the American media telling? Is it standard images of grieving relatives, somber ceremonies, and horrific historical footage? Or is it a more nuanced look at all the complex consequences of 9/11, from the moving tributes to the unvarnished brutality of war in Afghanistan?
Cultural critics have long bemoaned what they see as a dumbing down of the news into easily digestible montages and sound bites. But at such a profound moment, they say, the risks are greater. The media will play a primary role in shaping the cultural memory of 9/11, and mere mythmaking – distilling the events of the past 10 years into a simplistic and PG narrative – would be a disservice, many say.